KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 – Poaching remains the single largest threat for the survival of the Malayan tigers, and if there is no concerted and strong will to bring this activity under control soon enough, the route of extinction is what will be left for these tigers, a national symbol of pride.
While the loss of habitat in the last five decades have brought down the number of these tigers roaming around in the rainforest of Malaysia to less than 150 from an estimated 3,000 in the 1950s, with at least 4 species already extinct, it is poachers that are getting them now.
Continuous Patrolling is key to keeping down poaching
Keeping the poachers at bay by going on the grounds and empowering those entrusted to protect and patrol the tigers’ habitat is a key route that the Tiger Protection Society of Malaysia (Rimau) has been taking to save the Malayan tigers and its habitat.
This patrolling, however, must be continuous to ensure that the tigers make it to the next century, says Rimau’s President Lara Ariffin.
Presenting a dismal picture for the Malayan tiger during a media event, jointly organised by the Vinod Shekar Foundation and Rimau in conjunction with the World Wildlife Day on March 3rd, Lara said the Malayan tigers or panthera tigris jacksoni are poached, killed for just about every part of their body.
“There is a high demand for them, mainly from China and Vietnam. People want them for their bones, skin, teeth, meat and even their whiskers are now used for acupuncture needles.
“The tiger is in great demand and the poachers will come in just to hunt them and sell them in the black market.”
The poachers are not only locals but foreigners from around the region including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
How do these foreign poachers enter the Malaysian forests to begin with?
How do they then get to leave the jungles with the poached animals, and the Malaysian jungles really that easy to enter and leave, when some environmental activists say they cannot gain easy access to forested areas?
How could there have been hundreds of poachers camps found in the forests, when entry to these forests are guarded by forest officials?
While these misdirected questions could be only best answered by agencies such as the Immigration Department, Customs, Forestry and Wildlife department, Lara offers an explanation, saying that it may all boil down to political will.
“The department of wildlife can do only so much because they have very little people and we need to empower them to be able to do their job. That commitment has to come from the very top.
“The government has to realise that to save tigers, everybody within the government needs to play a role. It is not the just the Department of Wildlife. Forestry has to be involved. Customs and Immigration Department have to be involved (with poachers probably breaking the law by coming from a foreign country).”
The Judiciary on its part can mete out maximum sentences to deter the activities, she said, alluding to lenient sentences that make it easier for poachers, said to be backed by big-time traffickers, to be repeating their crimes.
Nonetheless, if there is any saving or protecting of the Malayan tiger to be done, it has to be now or never, as scientists have said that the tigers are at an existential “tipping point” – a critical time when unless significant protection is put in place, they could be gone forever, Lara said.
A major funder and supporter for the conservation work being done by Rimau comes from the Vinod Shekar Foundation, which provided the initial funding of RM300,000 for the NGO to put together its forest patrolling unit, Menraq, with the Perak State Parks Corporation.
A specialized wildlife patrol unit that employs the Jahai Orang Asli community to monitor the forest area, Menraq is said to have played a part in bringing down significantly the activity of poaching in the Belum Forest Park.
At the event, the foundation’s Chairman Datuk Vinod Sekhar announced another RM1.3 million in funding for Rimau’s tiger protection efforts.
The funding is expected to further strengthen the patrolling unit, including their training, equipment as well as their wages.
Speaking at the event, Vinod said there was a lot more to be done to save the Malayan tiger and that more Malaysians, whether individuals or corporations, could do their part to save the tiger from extinction.
“The Tiger symbolises courage and strength. Tigers are our national icon, the symbol of Malaysian pride. Unfortunately, looking at what is happening around us, the extinction of the Malayan tiger will happen sooner than we realise. It is time we wake up to the reality of the situation.”
To know more about the Malayan tiger and for those keen to contribute towards saving the Malayan tigers, please visit www.rimau.ngo